Soda tax heads to San Francisco voters this fall (w/video)

  • In this June 30, 2014 photo cans of Coca-Cola soda pop are shown in the refrigerator inside of Chile Lindo in San Francisco. San Francisco and Berkeley are aiming to become the first U.S. cities to pass per-ounce taxes on sugary drinks. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco lawmakers narrowly agreed Tuesday to place a 2-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks on the November ballot, a move that promises to turn the election into an expensive fight between the beverage industry and public health advocates.

The city's Board of Supervisors voted 6-4 to ask voters to approve the tax on sodas, sports drinks and other beverages sweetened with sugar and sold in the city. It would have to be approved by two-thirds of the electorate to take effect.

City officials have estimated the measure would raise somewhere between $31 million and $52 million a year. The proceeds would go toward nutrition, health, disease prevention, recreation and school physical education programs.

Supporters said they were motivated by research that has shown a link between sugar consumption and increasing rates of obesity and diabetes among young people.

"This is a life-or-death issue," said Supervisor Malia Cohen, a sponsor of the tax. "Bullets are not the only thing killing African American males. We also have sugary beverages that are killing people."

The tax would be imposed on beverage distributors, but its opponents on the board said they were concerned that it would be passed on to consumers and further penalize the population it is intended to help. They also questioned how effective the initiative would be in getting residents to give up sodas.

"What is going to stop someone from going ... to Costco and stocking up on sugary beverages in an area that is not San Francisco," Supervisor Katy Tang asked.

Its backers agreed that it would be better if the tax were not limited to San Francisco but noted that the city has a history of taking stands that are initially controversial then win broader support, such as endorsing same-sex marriage.

"At the end of the day, I think we have to set an example," Supervisor David Chiu said. "We have a responsibility to fight the fight and see where this goes."

Lawmakers in Berkeley voted earlier this month to put a measure on the local ballot that would impose a penny-per-ounce tax on beverages sweetened with sugar.

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